A view of the Whakaari eruption from a boat just off the island
A view of the Whakaari eruption from a boat just off the island (Credit: Michael Schade)

The Bulletin: Horror toll from Whakaari/White Island eruption

Welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Death toll from Whakaari eruption likely to rise, cabinet agrees Auckland port must move, and expensive Christchurch stadium details released.

UPDATE – 7.07am: More information on the number of people on the island at the time of the eruption has been released. 47 people were there at the time of the eruption. There were two groups on the island, and one was close to the eruption. 31 people are currently in hospital, five have been confirmed dead, and eight are still missing. Three have been released from hospital. 

A tragic death toll from the eruption of Whakaari/White Island is likely to rise. The number of those killed is currently five at the time of writing, but those people were among the initial group brought back from the island. Radio NZ reports flyovers have shown no signs of life. No survivors are expected to be found from here on out, and a rescue attempt had to be abandoned last night because of safety concerns. PM Jacinda Ardern has travelled to Whakatāne, and will be holding a press conference at 7am today. It is also unknown whether the eruption was the start of something bigger, or an isolated event.

Among the people caught up in the eruption, many are understood to be tourists. One local Whakatāne man, a tour guide, has been confirmed dead. The NZ Herald reports Hayden Marshall-Inman is being remembered as a kind and generous guy, who died doing what he loved. Others on the island were passengers on the Ovation of the Seas cruise ship. The Bay of Plenty Times has spoken to fellow passengers, who were shocked and shaken by what had happened. Australian people were among those on the island at the time of the eruption, and PM Scott Morrison expressed his grief and sympathies over what had happened.

There has been some conjecture overnight about why exactly people were on the island at all. After all, as the NZ Herald reported several weeks ago the Volcanic alert level for Whakaari had been raised. And as this episode of The Detail makes clear (coincidentally released on the same day of the eruption) Whakaari is one of a chain of active volcanoes which could erupt at any time. After reading this article by volcanologist and professor Shane Cronin, I’d be wary of swinging too hard at that point – these eruptions really do happen without warning, and as a steam eruption (rather than magma) it isn’t really possible to track or predict. Nobody can really say they knew for certain this was coming, except in the general sense that we know that eventually a geological event will happen given enough time.

Even so, the event is likely to have an impact on the tourism industry of the region, and overseas perceptions of tourism in New Zealand. Around 10,000 people visit the island each year, and tour operators always make those heading there aware of the risks, reports the NZ Herald. Tour operators currently make the decision on whether or not the island is safe to visit, which is likely to be a topic of discussion in the coming days. But coupled with almost a thousand tourists ending up stranded by flooding on the West Coast, it’s very easy to imagine the idea of New Zealand being too dangerous to visit taking hold internationally, especially as the story is currently leading major global websites like the BBC, the Guardian and CNN.

Auckland’s Port will move, but when and where is still to be decided. The NZ Herald reports a decision has been made by cabinet that it will move. More will be unveiled by minister Shane Jones on Thursday, with a range of official advice to be made public at the same time. Over at Politik, there has been a look at the seemingly most likely option – Northport – and what it could mean for the political landscape.

The plan for a new stadium in Christchurch have been released, and what gets built will be expensive for the city forever.Stuff reports that the chosen option will never make enough in revenue to cover operating and construction costs, and as such $4.2 million of public money will have to be put in each year – that is assuming that costs don’t blow out, and revenue projections actually get met. To give you an example of the thinking going into this, let me just quote a line from the Stuff story – “It will bring $395.6m in economic benefits, which includes $53.9m in “civic pride”. Construction is expected to be finished by 2024.

It’s not just Auckland bus drivers who are pushing for better conditions – the situation is the same in Wellington, reports Radio NZ’s Harry Lock. Several drivers spoke anonymously to him about how their lives were being affected, “from a lack of toilet facilities, to poor pay; from impossible time schedules, to unmanageable split shifts.” I wrote about this situation back in September, and there was a point that was made to me which I really can’t emphasise enough now – driving a bus is difficult, skilled work, and it becomes more dangerous for everyone on the road if drivers are overworked, stressed or inexperienced.

Meanwhile in Auckland, a driver protest was held in the CBD yesterday, with some criticism aimed at Auckland Transport who issue the contracts, reports Checkpoint. AT in turn say that they’re not directly involved in the negotiations between NZ Bus and FIRST Union. It’s worth a reminder that a factor in the current situation, outside the control of any individual organisation, is the Public Transport Operating Model (often called PTOM, when you see it in the news.) PTOM is currently being reviewed, after criticism that it had pushed down wages and conditions, and led to a workforce exodus.

A major public service story has been rumbling down in Wellington this week, over the 2017 ousting of former Auditor-General Martin Matthews. He was in charge of the transport ministry when fraudster Joanne Harrison stole a huge pile of money – the backstory to that case is here. Now Matthews wants to get parliament to reopen his case, on the grounds that he was forced to resign, with the backing of a series of legal heavyweights on his side. Stuff have continued to follow the story, with the PM saying that it is a matter for parliament to receive the petition to reopen the case, and not something she can decide.

Concerns are being raised that a new anti-terrorism bill could breach press freedom, reports Marc Daalder for Newsroom. As it is currently written, it could allow the government to gag people from speaking to the media, which is a red flag for human rights organisations. Justice minister Andrew Little didn’t have a substantive comment to make on the matter, though did suggest to the journalist that they might be reading too much into it – read the story and judge for yourself.

The Shareholders Association is demanding answers after the sudden departure of A2 Milk boss Jayne Hrdlicka, reports Business Desk (paywalled.) The reason given for the resignation – that there was unexpectedly going to be too much travel in the role – isn’t washing with the NZSA. They argue that such demands should have been anticipated, and that they hope there hasn’t been a golden handshake situation. Chairman David Hearn has noted there are confidentiality issues around the details of the departure.

A bit of housekeeping, and a call for feedback for the end of the year: Because I’m disorganised, I forgot to set up anything celebrating the year in NZ journalism like what we did last year. So instead, I want to do an informal version of it – currently it has the working title of ‘Say Something Nice About a Journo 2019’. Not very catchy, but it does what it says on the box.

Basically, here’s how it’ll work. I want you, the readers, to email me on thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz, to tell me about what journalism you’ve appreciated this year. If you can, please tie it to a specific journalist or team, and a specific story or issue they’ve covered. And then I’ll publish whatever positive comes back. I’ve got my own thoughts on who have been the standout journos of the year, but I’d much rather get yours instead.

Got some feedback about The Bulletin, or anything in the news? Drop us a line at thebulletin@thespinoff.co.nz

Where does our power come from? (Getty Images).

Right now on The Spinoff: Gaurav Sharma writes about how the media business is being hurt by not reflecting increasingly multicultural New Zealand. Alice Webb-Liddall reports on an Auckland Council announcement of kerbside food scraps collection, and what it will mean for the city’s waste. Flick’s Nikki Cockburn breaks down the sources of how our electricity gets generated. Cindy Baxter writes from COP25 about how the world perceives New Zealand as a climate leader, and how we should actually do something to prove that image right. Alex Casey writes about the difficult digital transition for What Now and their audience interaction – a key part of the long running kids show. And Nicola Gaston and co-authors from the MacDiarmid Institute have come up with some proposals for the future of Tiwai Point, which make a lot of sense.

For a feature today, a deep look into a company about which increasingly uncomfortable questions are being asked. USA Today has looked into Crimson Consulting, and been less than impressed by what they found. It bounces off some strong reporting from NZ outlets (including this from The Spinoff’s Maria Slade) and brings some solid shoe-leather reporting to bear on it. Here’s an excerpt:

Another way Crimson signaled its legitimacy as an international company: Its website said it had “offices” in more than a dozen countries around the world. What’s more, if a parent or student wanted to call, the company would have someone on the line – or at least that’s what the dozens of phone numbers on the company’s website appeared to suggest.

That wasn’t the experience of USA TODAY reporters. They visited the company’s locations in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and London and didn’t find a single person. In the New York case, the office lacked a sign or pamphlet materials – no indication at all that Crimson had ever been at the location. In a subsequent interview, Kushor said she and Beaton had previously worked there.

The Breakers have sacked Glen Rice Jr after he breached his bail conditions, reports One News. It brings to an end a short and troubled stint at the club for the American, who arrived in New Zealand with a long string of violent incidents in his past. The Breakers say they will continue to support Rice Jr until he returns home to the USA. Meanwhile on the court, the Breakers had a win over the Bullets last night, and are currently second to last on the points table.

That’s it for The Bulletin. If you want to support the work we do at The Spinoff, please check out our membership programme.

The Spinoff is made possible by the generous support of the following organisations.
Please help us by supporting them.